Hong Kong police have been accused of indiscriminately arresting bystanders and accusing them of participating in “unlawful assemblies,” in some cases holding them prisoner for days without proper access to legal counsel.
The South China Morning Post on Monday reported that some of the people improperly detained by the police are foreign nationals who were not given appropriate access to consular services while in custody. According to the report:
Among those affected was former marine police officer and retired pilot Jan Bochenski, 62, who was arrested earlier this month for joining an “unlawful assembly” in Sai Wan, his own neighbourhood.
He said he spent 30 hours in custody and had to wait for four hours to phone his wife and another four hours before he could speak to his lawyer despite multiple requests to officers.
Bochenski was swept up with about 30 other onlookers near the Chinese liaison office when protesters marched there on October 4. He noted the police acted as if some kind of general curfew had been imposed, but no such order was given. According to the report:
“There were young people, a pizza delivery boy, an Indian chef in his uniform, a mother and her son – normal people you see on a Sunday night walking down this area … there is no curfew, how can it be an unlawful assembly?” Bochenski said, adding that he was taken away after officers confirmed he was not a tourist.
He was then left standing for hours in a cell shared with 14 other detainees in Cheung Sha Wan Police Station. Bochenski, who said he was the first of those held to ask to make a phone call to his family and a lawyer, was only able to meet his lawyer at 4.30am. He said the lawyer had been sitting in the station waiting for hours. His other request to speak to the British consulate was ignored.
Several lawyers recalled similar experiences and said officers appeared reluctant to cooperate in some cases.
Other bystanders arrested by the police told the South China Morning Post about various “lame excuses” to keep people in detention from meeting with their lawyers. Some reported intimidation and even outright physical assault while they were held without proper access to legal counsel.
Another report from Hong Kong on Sunday described two American visitors, one of them a professional journalist, who were apparently arrested for taking pictures of the police. As of Monday afternoon, 86 arrests had been reported from the weekend, including a 12-year-old boy.
Hong Kong police officials defended their actions on Monday and blamed protesters for escalating violence at the demonstrations. In one headline-grabbing incident where officers drew their guns and fired a live round as a warning shot, the police said the officers were surrounded and rushed by “over 100 rioters armed with offensive weapons,” some of them displaying deadly intentions.
“I must emphasize the officers demonstrated great restraint. Their use of force was indeed necessary and reasonable. It was to protect any person, including our officers themselves, from death or serious bodily injury,” said Assistant Commissioner of Police Operations Mak Chin Ho on Monday.